Police bar journalists from site of editor’s murder on 1st anniversary

Statement prepared by the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York on December 15, 2005, to be read by Tidiane Sy on behalf of CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper, Africa Program Coordinator Julia Crawford, and the CPJ board of directors.

The Committee to Protect Journalists would like to extend deepest sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Deyda Hydara at this difficult time, and assure you of our continued support for the campaign to get his murderers brought to justice.

CPJ is deeply concerned that Hydara’s killers have still not been found, one year after his death. We are outraged that the government has ignored calls for an independent probe, and that official investigations have produced nothing but a smear campaign against the victim.

The murder of Deyda Hydara shocked the world, and cast a deep chill over the Gambia’s beleaguered independent press. This chilling effect was all the greater as it followed several unsolved arson attacks on the independent media, and the introduction of repressive new media laws.

During a visit to Banjul last April, CPJ observed the deep mistrust between the government and independent media in the Gambia, and said this was likely to hamper the murder investigations. We called on the government to take a number of steps to help improve the environment, including publicly affirming a commitment to press freedom and journalists’ safety. But official intimidation and harassment of the media has only continued.

When the National Intelligence Agency released a report on the murder inquiry in June, it was widely denounced as unprofessional and an attempt to smear Hydara’s reputation, as well as that of his family. CPJ wrote to President Yahya Jammeh, expressing concern that instead of fostering trust, this report would further undermine public confidence in the investigation and alienate potential witnesses. CPJ called for the probe to be handed over to an independent commission, to be established in consultation with Gambian journalists and members of the human rights and legal community. Other local and international press freedom and human rights groups have made similar calls.

The government has not responded, and since June, even the status of the official investigation is unclear. We appeal once again to the Gambian government for urgent action to establish an independent and transparent probe into the murder of Deyda Hydara. CPJ believes that this is a matter of the utmost importance. Press freedom and democracy cannot flourish in a climate of impunity for serious attacks on journalists.

While cases of murdered journalists in Africa are not numerous compared with some other regions of the world, they are often emblematic. It is often the most high profile and experienced journalists who are targeted – journalists such as Norbert Zongo in Burkina Faso, Carlos Cardoso in Mozambique and Deyda Hydara in the Gambia.

It has not been a good year for press freedom in Africa. Two journalists were killed in Somalia, one in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and another died in Sierra Leone after being beaten in a vicious attack.

Not only have journalists been killed, but the number imprisoned on CPJ’s census date of December 1st jumped sharply, from 19 in 2004 – of which 17 were in Eritrea – to 33 in 2005. This is mostly because of the recent crackdown in Ethiopia, which had at least 13 journalists behind bars. Eritrea, where the government shut down the entire private press four years ago, remained Africa’s worst jailer of journalists with 15 in prison. Most of them have been in secret jails for more than four years, without charge and without trial.

Lawless Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Niger and Rwanda each had at least one journalist jailed because of their work on December 1st.

A foreign journalist who went missing in war-torn Ivory Coast in April 2004 has still not been found.

In many African countries, journalists also face constant threats, harassment and intimidation, as well as repressive media legislation. In countries like Zimbabwe and indeed in the Gambia, media laws are being used as a weapon against the free press.

So we have much work to do. And continuing to push for Deyda Hydara’s murderers to be brought to justice is key. Because allowing journalists’ murderers to go unpunished will only encourage more attacks on the press… and hence on efforts to build real democracy.

Thank you for your attention